Andrea Gagliarducci

Andrea Gagliarducci

Andrea Gagliarducci is an Italian journalist for Catholic News Agency and Vatican analyst for ACI Stampa. He is a contributor to the National Catholic Register.

Articles by Andrea Gagliarducci

Viri probati, the discussion was already settled

Jun 20, 2019 / 00:00 am

The working document of the upcoming Special Synod for the Pan-Amazonian region does not have any mention to viri probati. However, the text speaks about the possibility of ordaining married people, old and respected in their community. It seems just different wording for the same issue. The Latin viri probati stands for “respected people,” or people o proven faith. Respected people of faith can already deliver the Eucharist and even lead the Liturgy of Word. Viri probati formula implies a step forward towards the ordination of a married man.  The excuse to push for the ordination of married priests has always been the lack of priests. In particular, the issue was raised for some places in Amazonia where priests barely can get once a month to bring Eucharist to people.  In the end, the final goal of the discussion seems to be the optional celibacy for priests. Celibacy of priests is a prerogative of the Latin rite of the Catholic Church. Pope Francis defended celibacy many times, the last tone coming back from Panama.  The Catholic Church also includes Churches of Eastern Rite. These Churches consent priests to marry. The fact that they are part of the Catholic Church shows that it is not true that the Catholic Church has no room for married priests. The attack is then generally moved to the Roman Catholic Latin tradition, to change the tradition of the Church.  The debate on viri probati is old. It sharply broke in South America together with the spread of Liberation Theology. John Paul II closed the discussion.  John Paul II spoke about the issue of viri probati in two particular occasions: during his trip to Peru in 1985 and at the 1990 Synod of Bishops on “The formation of priests in the current circumstances.  Speaking Feb. 5, 1985, to the representative of the Amazonian people in Peru, John Paul II underscored there was much Christian laity among the Indios, the so-called “animators of the Christian communities.” They “share the responsibility of the catechesis and the evangelization with bishops, priests and religious brothers and sisters.”  John Paul II then spoke o the lack of vocation, but he did not propose to ordain old and married people. John Paul II instead invited the community to open up “to the call of God that invited his sons to the full ecclesial service, to priestly service and consecrated life.”  The Polish Pope also asked that “families, sanctified with the sacrament of marriage, will be places of prayer and Christian life, domestic Churches, where it is possible to hear the voice of the Lord with the religious and priestly vocation.” Some days before, on Feb. 1, 1985, John Paul II celebrated Mass in Plaza de Armas, in Lima. The homily he delivered also touched the issues of celibacy. The Pope reminded priests who are lonely in remote places and asked the priests to “cultivate the Eucharistic dimension and to continually and joyfully renew the gift of celibacy.”  St. John Paul II kept this clear line in his final speech at the 1990 Synod, that was delivered Oct. 27, 1990. The address is published on the Vatican website, unfortunately only in Italian and Latin.  John Paul II stressed that the solution of viri probati “must not be taken into consideration and the issue must be faced otherwise. As is known, the possibility to use viri probati is too often recalled in the framework of propaganda averse to the priestly celibacy. This propaganda finds support and complicity in some mass media.”  St. John Paul II asked instead to “look, with no hesitation, for other solutions to this distressing pastoral program. Should not every bishop, and with him his diocese, be more profoundly aware of his mission to evangelize the whole world?”  The Pope underscored that he was going to encourage “the intensification of the help given by dioceses with more priests to those that lack priests. In front of the grave threat coming from same sects, we will take care that communities of faithful that cannot attend Mass every Sunday because of the shortage of priests will be able to strengthen their faith listening to the word of God, the access to the Holy Communion, the prayer and the fraternal union.”  St. John Paul II also noted that “the Synod confirmed, with no possibility of misunderstanding, the option for the priestly celibacy, that is typical of the Latin rite.”  The option for celibacy, the Pope added, “reveals a profound spiritual and ideological intuition, which understood the sacramental consecration to the priesthood as the foundations of a gift, a charism freely received and authenticated by the church.”  That is “the gift of chastity in celibacy because of an exclusive and joyful dedication o the priest to his ministry of service and his vocation of the testimony of the Kingdom of God.” John Paul II concluded: “By reaffirming without equivocation its fidelity to the priestly celibacy and deepening its motives for that, the Synod, in the name of all the Church, made a great act of faith in the grace of the Holy Spirit. We know that the Holy Spirit leads the Church.”  John Paul II’s words echoed the Synod’s discussion. The issue of viri probati was closed. However, the debate is reignited nowadays. As if there was no discussion before. As if the debate was never really settled. 

Pontifical Diplomacy, impact and scope of the Pope's army

Jun 14, 2019 / 00:00 am

Speaking to French Minister Pierre Laval May 13, 1935, Josip Stalin provocatively asked: "The Pope? How many divisions has he got?" The French Foreign Minister had noted with Stalin that the Pope might have appreciated the end of oppression to Catholics in Russia.   No, the Pope has no army and no military divisions. However, the Pope has a fantastic tool: its diplomatic network. The Holy See diplomacy is the mean through which the Holy See pursue the common good, both in bilateral and multilateral relations. It is one of the most ancient diplomatic networks in the world. By tradition, the Papal nuncio is the dean of the corps of ambassadors of each country. During these days,  98 Papal nuncios and five observers plus 46 emeritus nuncios are gathering in the Vatican. It is their third meeting, which takes place on a 3-year basis.  During the meeting, nuncios discuss general issues and meet with Vatican officials and dicasteries related to their work. For example, on the morning of June 14, they heard a report by Caritas Internationalis, the "umbrella" of 164 Catholic relief organization in the world that is directly linked to the Secretariat of State for what concerns relations with States.  What is the importance of the Papal nuncios?    The Papal nuncios have a twofold task: on the one hand, they maintain the relations with governments; on the other hand, they assist the Pope in choosing the new Bishops in the country where they work.   For what concern their diplomatic side, there are two ways to establish a dialogue with the world and have an impact on society.  First is that of establishing diplomatic ties. The Holy See has diplomatic relations with 183 countries in the world and has no full diplomatic relations with 13 countries in the world. Out of these 13, there are eight countries where the Holy See has not even a representative: Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Bhutan, China, North Korea, Maldive, Oman, and Tuvalu. The Holy See has Apostolic delegates in four countries (Comore, Somalia, Brunei, and Laos), while it has a non-residential representative in Vietnam, that is one step in the negotiations to establish full diplomatic ties started back in 2009.  Vietnam will likely be soon the 184th State with full diplomatic relations with the Holy See: the latest meeting of the Vietnam - Holy See working group took place on December 19, 2018. The final statement stressed that the Holy See was going to commit to establishing a permanent representative in Hanoi.  The second way is the impact on the multilateral organization. The Holy See is Permanent Observer at the United Nations and has a nuncio to represent is at the UN headquarters of New York, Geneva and Nairobi. The Holy See is also Observer at the FAO in Rome and at the OSCE in Vienna, while it has the rank of a full member at the International Atomic Energy Agency – of which it is a founding member – and at the International Organization for Migrations in Geneva.   The Holy See is represented in several other regional organizations, while it has a nuncio to the European Union and an Observer to the Council of Europe.   What is the Holy See impact in international organizations?  Numbers help to understand. The Holy See Mission at the UN in New York took floor 100 times in 2018: 85 speeches were delivered by Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See; 10 were delivered by Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Vatican "minister for Foreign Affairs"; 4 by the Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of State, as head of the delegation to the Global Compact talks in Marrakech on Dec. 10-11 and as head of the Holy See delegation on the CoP24 meeting for the climate in Katowice (Poland).    In Geneva, the Holy See took the floor 48 times in 2018. It is noteworthy that Geneva hosted many panels of the UN Global Compact on migrations.   The Holy See international agenda is the common good, and all of the Holy See interventions in the multilateral arena are intended to give voice to the voiceless, whether they are the most impoverished countries who have not so much weight in the international gatherings or they are the marginalized people.   The Holy See is a reference point, so much that it was asked to vote in a procedural vote of the UN Conference on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons back in June, being granted of the status of a full member State for that vote only. The Holy See is, in fact, a permanent observer, and takes part in negotiations, but never votes. Although it was proposed many times to become a full member, it always refused, because its vote could be instrumentalized or fall undervotes on the declarations of war.   The fact that the UN looked at the Holy See when there is a need for a third party or a good push is revealing of its weight.  The Holy See has always had an excellent reputation in diplomatic issues, as it has no territorial or economic interest to defend.    Back in 2015, speaking at a conference, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, even proposed to establish an "office for pontifical mediation" within the ranks of the State Secretariat, since "facing an increase of armed conflicts – both internal and external – which are caused because of a lack of preventative actions or because of a lack in managing the post-conflict times, an attention to prevention (through the new office) will highlight the real meaning of the Holy See's presence in the international community."   Cardinal Parolin was not just thinking about the restoration of US – Cuba relations, that were facilitated by the Holy See back in 2014. The Holy See was a facilitator also in the Beagle Channel controversy between Argentina and Chile, that outbroke in 1978. After a series of declarations, including a "paternal exhortation" issued September 20, 1978 by John Paul I (probably, the only diplomatic intervention of his short pontificate), St. John Paul II sent a mission of peace and friendship in Santiago and Buenos Aires, and the Vatican mediation brought to Montevideo Agreements on January 8, 1979.   Looking behind in the past, Pope Leo XIII was called to mediate the conflict between Prussia and Spain for the sovereignty of the Carolina Islands.   These are just some of the reasons why it is crucial to look attentively at the steps of the so-called "pontifical diplomacy."

What does Caritas Internationalis reform mean?

Jun 6, 2019 / 00:00 am

Caritas Internationalis is “the umbrella” of 165 Catholic relief service spread all over the world. Its 21st general assembly took place from May 22 through the 28th. The assembly confirmed Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle as president and appointed Aloysius John as general secretary. At the end of the meeting, it was made public a decree of the Vatican Secretary of State that updated the statutes.  The decree was issued on May 22. In the end, the decree presents no substantial news: Caritas Internationalis primary reference within the Roman Curia was previously the Pontifical Council Cor Unum; now, it is the dicastery for the Service of the Integral Human Development.  Nothing special in that: the Pontifical Council Cor Unum no longer exists and has been absorbed by the new dicastery.  The update of the statutes is however essential because it reveals something of the rationale of the Curia reform, especially for what concerns the role of the Secretariat of State.  Pope Francis has until now carried forward the Roman Curia reform on two parallel tracks: on the one hand, the Pope decided to establish new dicasteries with new statutes; on the other hand, Pope Francis is leading an ongoing consultation with the Council of Cardinals, which led to the drafting of the Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium.  The new Constitution was supposed to be published by the end of the month: it seems it will not. However, anticipations on the draft of the Constitution are already circulating. The debate is open.  The anticipations generally focus on the new missionary dicastery and on the fact that it will be more important than the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. However, there is one Curia office that seems to remain untouched: the Secretariat of State. It must not be underestimated.  Initial proposals of Curia reform aimed at dismantling the Vatican Secretariat of State. One of the ideas was to split the two sections into two different secretariats as part of a group of four bureaus designed to oversee the Curia. Step by step, the Secretariat of State regained its centrality among the Curia offices. The decree on Caritas Internationalis is one of the profs of the Secretariat of State renewed importance. As said, the decree is not big news. Caritas Internationalis underwent a major reform in 2012. After the reform of the statutes, Pontifical Council Cor Unum became competent for Caritas Internationalis. Since Cor Unum has been absorbed by the new “super-dicastery” for the integral human development, the statute needed to be updated. The 2012 Caritas Internationalis reform also gave some specific tasks to the Secretariat of State, which got confirmed. Cardinal Piero Parolin’s decree on Caritas Internationalis clearly spells the competences of the Secretariat of State on the confederation and also described the competencies entrusted to the section for the general affairs and those assigned to the section for the relation with the States.  The 2012 statutes presented nearly the same issues, except for some smoothed paragraphs and some adjustments due to other reform, like the new law for the Vatican City State.  It is noteworthy that the 2012 reform was part of a more extensive Benedict XVI’s project to accomplish the Pastor Bonus provisions fully. Pastor Bonus is the Apostolic Constitution that regulates functions and tasks of the Curia offices. Issued in 1988 by St. John Paul II, it will be replaced by the Praedicate Evangelium. According to the Pastor Bonus, the Secretariat of State had to coordinate the work of all the other dicasteries.  From the financial reform to the Caritas Internationalis, all of Benedict XVI’s moves were considered part of a plan to centralize issues. Benedict XVI was trying to achieve more coordination among dicasteries.  The Curia reform discussions focused a lot on the need for coordination. The first talk also advanced the possibility to establish “moderator Curiae” (moderator of the Curia) for that purpose.  The proposal for a moderator of the Curia soon fell, while the Secretariat of State took back step by step all of its competences: from a dicastery to be dismantled to a central body of the Curia.  The amendments to Caritas Internationalis statute confirm the centrality of Secretariat of State.  In the end, the many anticipations of the new Constitution Praedicate Evangelium focused on the establishment of a new missionary “super-dicastery” or of a dicastery of charity, but little is said about the Secretariat of State.  In the end, the Secretariat of State will keep its name and its role. It is not anymore the time of (total) revolution.   

Sex abuse by clergy, what if media lead the debate?

May 22, 2019 / 00:00 am

No doubt that the scandal of sex abuse by clergy has shocked the Church. No doubt that the Church is called to put measures in action to eradicate the scandal because even one abuse is too much. There is no doubt, indeed, that the contrary is possible. That is, that media report on alleged abuse taking only the side of those who say have been abused.  There have been many stories of “character assassination” of this kind. The latest one is that of Fr. Herman Geissler. Fr. Geissler resigned by the position of head of office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Jan. 28, following allegations of harassment advanced against him by Mrs. Doris Wagner-Reisinger.  Mrs. Reisinger has been a nun, and from 2003 to 2011, she was a member of the Spiritual Family The Work. Also Fr. Geissler is a member of the same Congregation.  Fr. Geissler had decided to resign “to limit the damage already done to the Congregation and his community,” but he always highlighted that “the accusations made against him are untrue.”  Fr. Geissler also asked to carry on the legal process against him. In general, this kind of processes is entrusted to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  Pope Francis made instead the decision to assign the case to the Apostolic Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. Pope Francis’ decision was aimed at avoiding any possible conflict of interest. The Signatura was called to clarify whether this case constitutes a delict of solicitation to sin against the sixth commandment in the contest of confession.  A college of five judged decided that the case did not constitute a delict. Fr. Geissler was then acquitted.  The news of Fr. Geissler acquittance did not get as much coverage as the allegations of Doris Wagner -Reisinger.  Doris Wagner -Reisinger allegations of harassment have been up in the media for a long time. Speaking at a public conference in Rome in November, she never mentioned Fr. Geissler but gave precise information that led the media to name him and publish his picture, although the allegations were still not proven, and a canon procedure was ongoing and yet to produce any outcome.  The presumption of innocence was not applied, in his case. Fr. Geissler, on the other hand, applied the principle that institutions must be protected and, to do so, he stepped down. Though the news of Fr. Geissler acquittal was widespread, it did not have the same resonance of the allegations of Doris Reisinger, though none of the accusations was proved.  Wagner-Resinger allegations were taken for granted. It was hard to find a complete profile of her.  Doris Wagner-Reisinger is a former nun of the Spiritual Family The Work. After she left the Spiritual Family, she made of the fight against the Church and religious congregations the center of her life.    She also claimed that “the Catholic Church moral sexuality is absurd,” and that the issue “is originated by the structure of the Church, which should be abolished.”  Doris Wagner-Reisinger lives now in Wiesbaden, in Germany, with a former member of the Spiritual Family The Work, Philip Reisinger. Resinger is a priest suspended a divinis. They contracted a civil marriage, and they have a son together. In 2008, when still a nun, Dori Wagner-Reisinger has a sexual affair with another member of the community, Father B.  In 2011, she and the Spiritual Family The Work friendly part ways.  In 2012, she began reconsidering her experience as a nun through the lenses of the abuse, of violence, of manipulation.  In 2012 and 2013, Doris Wagner sues Fr. B, in Germany and Austria. In both cases, tribunals states it was not violence, but a consensual relationship.  She begins to lecture on abuse against nuns.  Last fall, she took part in the movie “Female Pleasures,” a documentary by the Swiss director Barbara Miller released in 2018 that explores female sexuality in the 21st century around the globe.  In the movie, she noted that “normal Catholics are changing,” and “for students is normal to have sexual experiences before the marriage,” while “having children before marrying, homosexual relations and contraception are not considered a sin.” There, she clearly states that “the Church has become a den of bandits… all religions are used to legitimate who is in power… with no public push, the Church would never do something. She joins the group “Voices of Faith;” a group that aims to advocate more significant participation of women in the Church.  Following her testimony at an event organized by “Voices of Faith,” media start writing about the alleged harassment by Fr. Geissler.  These pieces of the story, coming from open sources, would have helped to frame the Fr better. Geissler’s situation.  If there is a report, obviously an investigation must follow. Way too often, however, in cases of alleged abuse by clergy, media take the party of the plaintiff. Fr. Geissler case is just the last one. In many cases, priests were utterly cleared of the charges; however, the media only remember the allegation, never the acquittal. It is indeed infamous smearing of the innocents. In the final speech of the Feb. 21 – 24 Vatican anti-abuse summit, Pope Francis stressed:  “The time has come, then, to work together to eradicate this evil from the body of our humanity by adopting every necessary measure already in force on the international level and ecclesial levels. The time has come to find a correct equilibrium of all values in play and to provide uniform directives for the Church, avoiding the two extremes of a ‘justicialism’ provoked by guilt for past errors and media pressure, and a defensiveness that fails to confront the causes and effects of these grave crimes”. It is a clear recognition of the media pressures. There is a deep commitment in countering sex abuse scandal, as the most recent motu proprio Vos Estis Lux Mundi shows. A fair trial must be guaranteed, though. Otherwise, the narrative will be always one-sided. 

Waiting for the annual report, the Vatican financial watchdog released the "General risk assessment"

May 20, 2019 / 00:00 am

On the eve of the presentation of the Annual report of the Vatican Financial Intelligence Authority, the “General Risk Assessment” of the Holy See / Vatican City State has been released on the Authority’s web site. In short, the document states that the Holy See is not a country in financial risk. The potential risks come mainly from outside and are connected to international and cross—border activities, and the national legal framework does not cause them. This latter could have been more vulnerable before, but now, after reforms, perfectly works. . The document was issued in Dec. 2018.  Monsignor Paolo Borgia, the assessor to the Secretariat of State and president of the Financial Security Committee, authored the foreword of the text. Monsignor Borgia underscored that “the document shows how, also considering the uniqueness and geographical configuration of the jurisdiction, the potential risks come mainly from outside and are connected to international or cross-border activities.”  “On the domestic level, monsignor Borgia continued,  a number of specific areas have been identified in which to strengthen safeguards, such as donations, public procurement contracts and non-profit organizations registered in the Vatican City State.” In the 2018 AIF annual report, Tommaso Di Ruzza, director of the Financial Intelligence Authority who also serves as secretary of the Financial Security Committee and coordinator of the General risk assessment, noted that the assessment “did not highlight internal threats.”  The recommendations are aimed at strengthening the effectiveness and sustainability of the anti-money laundering system. In particular, it is recommended to enhance the Financial Intelligence Authority, the office of the Vatican Promotor of Justice (i.e., public prosecutor) for economic—financial crime and the Tribunal and Appeal Court to the Vatican City State tribunals.  These recommendations have a twofold goal.   On the one hand, there is the need to strengthen the Financial Intelligence Authority, to make more sustainable its remarkable activity on financial intelligence and oversee.  On the other hand, there is the need to strengthen and furtherly specialize tribunals, so that they could adequately follow up with investigations and prosecutions to the AIF suspicious transactions report. These two goals were also recommendations included the Council of Europe’s MONEY 2015 and 2017 progress report on the Holy See / Vatican City State.  The general risk assessment based on the methodology provided by the World Bank and meet the recommendation n. 1 of the Financial Action Task Force, the international group that elaborates recommendations for countering money laundering.  The general risk assessment shows that the Holy See is consistent with international standards. The Holy See reporting system is working and is continually improved. Recently, the Financial Intelligence Authority also issued the “Regulation n. 5 on suspicious transactions reports.”  The “General Risk Assesment Document” stresses that “a stable institutional and legal anti-money laundering has been created.”  In the course of the years, the Holy See improved its anti-money laundering legal packaged. In 2013, the Holy See issued the law n. XVIII that also established the Financial Security Committee.  The Committee is a permanent body set up to coordinate policies and strategies to counter potential financial crimes.  The Committee is composed by: the assessor for the General Affairs of the Secretariat of State, who is the president of the Committee; the undersecretary for the Relations with States of the Secretariat of State; the general secretary of the Vatican City State administration; the general secretary of the Secretariat for the Economy; the promotor of justice (i.e. the public prosecutor) of the Vatican City State Tribunal; one of the two adjunct auditors to the office of the General Auditor; the director of Financial Intelligence Authority; the director of the security services of the Vatican City State administration; the commander of the Pontifical Swiss Guards.  According to the Financial Intelligence Authorities Reports, the number of suspicious transactions reports has diminished, but their quality improved. The reports also tell that there are periodic meetings among the Vatican promotor of justice, Gendarmes Corps and Financial Intelligence Authority to coordinate investigations. Between 2011 and 2018, there have been 366 exchanges of information between the Financial Intelligence Authority and Holy See and Vatican City State authority. Sixteen out of those exchanges were spontaneous communication of information related to the prevention and fight against money laundering. As said, donations and public procurements were given special attention.  The donations are collected through ad hoc institutional channels, like Peter’s Pence, the Papal Almoner, and the Pontifical Missionary Works. These latter are subjected to domestic legislation. The Vatican City State was admitted on Nov. 21, 2018, in the SEPA, the Single Euro Payments, Area from the European Council of Payments. Financial operations in the SEPA area will then be smoother and compared to domestic transactions.  The General Risk Assesment document also describes the Holy See economy.  “Considering the particularities and the limited size of its economy, the document reads, it is not possible to assign a ‘gross value’ to the economic activities performed in the Vatican City State or to calculate the cost of the goods and services consumed in the State,” and “the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) index is not applicable to the jurisdiction”, since “in Vatican City State there are no free markets in the economic, financial and professional sectors.”  The document reminds that in the Vatican “there is no private real estate,” and since this sector is particularly vulnerable “a regulation on public procurement contracts was drafted and is currently under assessment by the Superior Authorities, in view also of the implementation of Article 9 of the Mérida Convention against Corruption, as ratified by the Holy See on Sept. 16, 2016”. The Vatican City State does not have a banking sector, and so the General Risk Assessment report on the limited financial sector present in the Vatican City State.  The financial sector of the Vatican City State “is public in nature and is de facto closed”, since in the State “there is no financial market”, “no public debt instruments, capital instruments, securities or associated instruments are issued,” “no insurance companies, electronic money institutions, trust companies, securities firm exist,” and “there are no foreign financial entity branches, subsidiaries or offices.”

The Holy See vs. secular “soft totalitarianism” that excludes religion

May 15, 2019 / 00:00 am

The Abu Dhabi declaration on “Human Fraternity,” co-signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Ahmed al-Tayyeb, sparked controversies because it stated that “the pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race, and language are willed by God in his wisdom.”  Pope Francis claimed that the declaration was analyzed by Fr. Wojciech Gyertich, Theologian of the Pontifical Household and that he found it “ok” in doctrinal terms. According to an internal source, the Theologian of the Pontifical Household actually suggested an amendment to the declaration: he asked to include in it a reference to religious freedom. Religious freedom is, in the end, the key. The Holy See always claimed that the respect for religious freedom is the “litmus test” of every society.  After a Holy See proposal, a paragraph dedicated to religious freedom was included in the 1975 Helsinki Declaration that was at the origins of the establishment of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe. That paragraph on religious freedom is considered one of the items that contributed to the dissolution of the iron curtain.  It is no surprise, then, that the International Theological Commission dedicated its latest document to the theme “Religious freedom for the good of all.”  The document sheds light on the fact that the gravest threats to religious freedom come from secular states that proclaim themselves neutral.  According to the document, there is “a soft totalitarianism” of the self-proclaimed neutral State, as in the name of this neutrality, the State “does not seem able to prevent that professed faith or religious belonging are considered an obstacle for the full cultural and political citizenship o people.” The document also underscores that religious fundamentalism is a reaction to the modern State, “because of its ethical relativism and indifference toward religion.” The text is, in the end, a strong allegation against the society that marginalizes religions as well as against the humanistic rhetoric that “appeals to values of peaceful cohabitation, of individual dignity, of the intercultural and interreligious dialogue.”  The document should be read in its entirety, but some highlights might help to understand the analysis of the Holy See.  The document notes that religious radicalization cannot be considered “a mere and more practicing return to traditional religiosity.”  Radicalization opposes to the liberal State and to its “soft totalitarianism,” described as “open to ethical nihilism” that is officially based on “procedural rules of justice,” but de facto set aside “every ethical justification or religious inspiration.”  The International Theological Commission denounces the “ideology of neutrality,” that imposes “the marginalization, if not the exclusion of religion from the public sphere.” The public sphere is then “only neutral in appearance, while civil liberty is objectively discriminatory.”  The document also notes that civic culture is then brought “to self describe its humanism by removing the religious component of human being,” in the end “removing decisive parts of their history.”  Within this system, many find “justified” to get to a “desperate fanatism,” either atheistic or theocratic, with “violent and totalitarian forms of political ideology and religious militancy that seemed to be history now.”  The hidden reference is to many phenomena: from the uprise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State to the terrorist attacks all over Europe, until the attacks to churches in France (according to the Observatory for Christianophobia, last February was the last month). In the end, people are not returning to religious, because, the International Theological Commission notes, the return to religion is often detached by “the authentic tradition and the cultural development of the great historical religions.”  The document mostly targets the secular environment. It asks that culture “overcome the prejudice of a purely emotional or ideological view of religion,” and at the same time it commits religions to “elaborate their views in a language humanistically understandable.”  The document also stressed that “every attempt of exploiting the political power must be repudiated,” and that “evangelization is aimed today at its positive evaluation in the context of religious and civil freedom of conscience.”  The document also notes that “defending the inalienable rights of every individual is a reaction against the traumatic expression of totalitarianism,” defends the right to the objection of conscience, underscores that family is marginalized though they are the first factor for the evangelization. In the end, the International Theological Commission reiterates that the Catholic church “is not a private entity competing to affirm its privileges,” though it participates in the public life, without being identified as a mere opinion group.”  The International Theological Commission stresses that religious liberty is a two-way path, and so “everyone has the right to religious freedom is necessarily linked with the acknowledge of the same right.” The document finally underscores that the missionariety of the Church follows “the rationale of the gift, i.e., of grace and liberty, and not that of contract and impositions.” The Church’s mission, in the end, cannot be confused with “the domination of people of the world and the government of the earthly city” and considers an evil temptation “the claim of reciprocal exploitation of political power and evangelical mission instead.”  In the end, the document concludes, there is no a reason to choose another way of testimony, nor there is any “reasonable argument that compels the State to exclude religious freedom from participating to the reflections on and promotion of the common good.”  The document, in the end, fills a void left with Abu Dhabi declaration. After Benedict XVI’s Regensburg lecture, it can be considered one of the most potent accusations to the secular society. In the end, Benedict XVI spoke about a dictatorship of relativism, while now the document stresses a soft “totalitarianism” of the secular State. This totalitarianism is, in fact, a “unilateralism,” that excludes any idea of a different kind. It is no surprise, in the end, that Pope Francis praised multilateral diplomacy in his traditional new year’s speech to the corps of diplomats. 

Did Pope Francis' trip to Bulgaria mark a new phase in the dialogue with Bulgarian Orthodox Church?

May 11, 2019 / 00:00 am

During Pope Francis' trip to Bulgaria on May 5-6, the media focused on how the Bulgarian Orthodox Church showed bitterness against Pope Francis' visit.  Many things seemed to support this scenario. The Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in April underscored that the head of State had invited Pope Francis, and for this reason, his visit had to be considered a State visit.  Pope Francis' trip schedule included a visit to the Orthodox Cathedral Alexander Nevsky. The Holy Synod stated that the visit was "possible," while it was "unacceptable" any form of liturgical service or prayer. It was also forbidden the participation of every representative of the Bulgarian Church in any other event."  Before the Papal visit, media in Bulgaria also report that metropolitan Nikolai of Plovdiv was protesting against the visit and labeled Pope Francis' as the anti-Christ.  There is, in the end, a whole world that goes beyond official declarations and personal reactions to Pope Francis' visit. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church proved to be more eager to welcome Pope Francis than reported.  Two declarations show that. Metropolitan Antonij is the primate of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church for Central Europe. Metropolitan Antonij is the Orthodox bishop that accompanied Pope Francis from the Holy Synod to the Alexander Nevsky in Sofia. He was also among the authorities in front of the Presidential Palace to welcome Pope Francis.  Right after Papal visit, Metropolitan Antonij published a long declaration on his official Facebook page. He underscored that "Pope Francis' visit to Bulgaria generates a strong public response" and that Bulgarian people were won over by "the good, the openness and the message of peace" bore by the Pope.  Metropolitan Antonik also remarked that the visit showed "how many Bulgarians need for the Church's voice, for its message of grace among people, for the communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, to reinforce the Church's unity."  The Metropolitan added that it is true that these messages also resonate "in the sermons of the Orthodox churches." He then clarified that "the scope of the visit was not Catholic propaganda in my home," since the trip was not "intended to ignore the differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism." The scope of the visit was instead "the opening to the encounter", that led the Holy Synod to meet Pope Francis, as "Christians are good at being peacemakers."  Metropolitan Antonij then admonished: "The faithful of Christ have nothing to fear. Nobody can endanger our orthodox faith. Orthodox Christians do not see in their neighbors enemies and threats, but brothers and sons of God." That of Metropolitan Antonij was the second pro-Pope Francis Orthodox intervention. Before him, Metropolitan Naum of Rousse published on his Facebook page a post titled "What threat is Francis to us." Metropolitan Naum wrote: "We know that Pope Francis' visit goal is not that of turning Bulgarian into Roman Catholics." He added that the Holy Synod gave a majority vote to the meeting with Pope Francis because "it is good to realize that we need to know each other better, to enjoy of the goodwill between us. This is, in fact, Pope Francis' message. Because God is love."  These two posts show that even prominent members of the Holy Synod wish to dismiss the idea that the meeting with Catholics is a threat, as many Orthodox faithful think.  Patriarch Neofit has the same approach.  In the end, the Bulgarian Orthodox showed their wish to open up.  Such an opening is difficult since some of the members of the Holy Synod are on apparently very extreme positions. However, the most extreme views are not fed with anti-Catholic prejudice, but they are somewhat committed to preserving their faith.  In addition to that, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church still feels some influence from Russia, and on the other hand, it needs to keep the national Church strong.  Even Orthodox faithful are traditionally suspicious in terms of relations with other Christian confessions.  Metropolitans Antonij and Baum actually reassured faithful with their posts that there was no proselytizing agenda in Pope Francis' trip.  On the other hand, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church had to be consistent with what it always preached, beyond this path of dialogue.  For these reasons, symbols are significant to understand Pope Francis' trip and the impact it had. Patriarch Neofit gave Pope Francis a painting of Alexander Nevsky cathedral instead of an icon, which is traditionally presented in the religious meeting. This way, he emphasized the Pope's character of the head of State. But in Alexander Nevsky Cathedral the Pope sat on chair displaced on a round carpet with the two-headed eagle that is used for Orthodox bishops. The eagle symbolizes that shepherds need to look from above, with the eye of God. For the prayer, Pope Francis was then considered as a bishop.  They seem nuances, but they are significant.  Pope Francis also made symbolic actions. Celebrating Mass on May 5 in Sofia, he wore the omophorion that Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov donated to him.  The omophorion is a liturgical vestment used by Orthodox bishops and Eastern Catholic bishops of the Byzantine Rite, but also by those of Latin rite. Unlike the pallium, the omophorion can be worn by all the priests. Pope Francis juxtaposed it to the pallium, that is the vestment of Metropolitan bishops and the Pope.  The pallium is made of white wool, the symbol of the bishop as the good shepherd and, at the same time, of the Lamb Crucified for the salvation of the human race.  Seeking what unites, Pope Francis combined two vestments in an ideal ecumenical brotherhood.  The fact that there was no Orthodox clergy at the prayer for peace in Sofia on May 6 was in line with Orthodox decision to treat Pope Francis' visit as a State visit. Orthodoxy was represented by the government's director for the religious affairs.  Coming back from Bulgaria and North Macedonia, Pope Francis underscored he was very stricken by how religions lived together in Bulgaria and praised Patriarch Neofit, saying that the meeting with him was excellent.  Pope Francis was generally satisfied with the trip and enjoyed the dialogue with the Holy Synod.  Despite this general positivity, official positions should stay as they have been until now. Bulgarian Orthodox Church approach will not likely change, not even n theological issues. There is however the feeling that Pope Francis' visit helped to break a wall of mistrust. Pope Francis' could not do that without the patient work done before by the Catholic Church in Bulgaria, that acts as a natural bridge, as it has both the Byzantine and Latin rite. The ecumenical dialogue goes on, in the end, step by step. So Pope Francis trip to Bulgaria was hopefully a particularly important step. 

Pope Francis’ ecumenical “equivicinity”

May 6, 2019 / 00:00 am

On May 4th, on the eve of Pope Francis’ trip to Bulgaria and North Macedonia, the Holy See Press Office communicated that Pope Francis summoned the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) and its metropolitan bishops to the Vatican, for a meeting set up on July 6-7.  It will be an interdicasterial meeting, which means that it will also involve some heads of Vatican dicasteries. Likely, the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Eastern Churches will take part in the meeting. There could also be a representative of the Dicastery for the Service to Integral Human Development, which coordinated the collection and the delivery of aids of the project “Pope For Ukraine.”  Right after the announcement, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, noted that Pope Francis wants to involve the UGCC in a sort of road map for the country. Ukraine has been enduring for six years now a “forgotten conflict,” as Pope Francis himself labeled it.  The meeting is still not what the UGCC would wish. In the end, the UGCC would be fully satisfied if at least one of these events would happen: a Pope Francis’ visit to Ukraine; the recognition of UGCC as Patriarchate; the beatification of major archbishop Andrey Sheptysky, considered a real symbol of the Church and the nation.  Pope Francis made an intermediate step instead. Pope Francis confirmed his strategy toward the Eastern Churches, and in particular toward those churches who experience some tensions with the Orthodox world in general and with Moscow Patriarchate in particular. This strategy, a sort of “ecumenical Ostpolitik,” can be described as a strategy of "equivicinity", with a joke that works very well in Italian. What does it mean?  Equidistant means equally distant. The term can be also applied to people who maintain the same distance from all the parties.  Pope Francis ecumenical approach is instead that of an “equivicinity.” That is, to be equally close to everyone.  Pope Francis’ trip to Bulgaria and North Macedonia is part of the picture. In Bulgaria, Pope Francis confronted with one of the more resistant Orthodox Churches. Before Pope Francis’ visit, the Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church clarified it was impossible for Orthodox to participate to Pope Francis’ celebrations. In fact, beyond the meeting at the Synod, there was not any public celebration. In Romania, Pope Francis will pray the “Our Father” together with Patriarch Daniel. In Bulgaria, there was just a Pope Francis’ silent prayer in front of the throne of St. Cyrill and Methodius in the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.  Despite these difficulties, Pope Francis preferred highlighting what unites.  Pope Francis pivoted his speech at the Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church on the ecumenism of blood, that is the persecution that both Catholic and Orthodox endured in Bulgaria during the Communist regime.  Then, Pope Francis focused on the traditional visit of the Bulgarian delegation to the Vatican on the occasion of the feast of St. Cyrill and Methodius, that is celebrated on May 24 according to the Gregorian calendar.  The visit has been taking part for 50 years now. For 33 years now, the Bulgarian delegation is joined by the North Macedonian delegation. The event unites the two countries Pope Francis is visiting.  Pope Francis used the meeting to explain the possibilities of an encounter even when dialogue might be difficult. It is difficult between Catholic and Orthodox, but it is complicated also within the Orthodoxy.  Tracing back all the issues of the fragmented Orthodox world is complicated.  In North Macedonia, there is an autocephalous Church, the Macedonian Orthodox Church. The Macedonian Orthodox Church was established in 1967 but it is not recognized by Orthodox communion, and it is considered schismatic. The Patriarchate of Serbia claims the Macedonian territory as its canonical territory.  Recently, the Macedonian Orthodox Church became a path to recognize the Bulgarian Orthodox Church as its mother Church, to be finally acknowledged in the Orthodox world.  The Holy See never said a word on the issues of the autocephaly, which an internal Orthodox point. At the same time, the Holy See always kept relations with the Macedonian Orthodox Church.  Archbishop Stefan, head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, noted with CNA that “the Vatican always showed great sympathy toward the Macedonian Orthodox Church, and many professors in the educational institutions of our Church were formed in the Holy See institutions in Rome.”  The Macedonian Orthodox Church self-proclaimed its autonomy at the end of a compound path. The Archbishopry of Ochrid was established n 971. In 1767, the Ottoman Empire abolished the Archbishopry and put it under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.  After that, Macedonian referred for a while to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and then in 1920, the territory passed under the jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church following the establishment of the Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian kingdom. Despite the friendship ties, the Holy See has always been prudent about the issues of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. She did not get into the autocephaly issue but kept connections saving some necessary formality. Pope Francis and Archbishop Stefan do not entertain the usual meetings between two religious heads, but they have meetings. For example, Archbishop Stefan is always part of the national delegation that visits the Vatican for the St. Cyrill and Methodius feast.  This is the general framework that led the Macedonian Orthodox Church to appeal to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. This framework is also on the background of this Papal trip. Everything, in the end, is connected, as every national Orthodox Church presents some autonomy claims.  Pope Francis faces these issues with an ecumenism based on common challenges. Pope Francis’ has a pragmatic approach to ecumenism, which already proved to work in some circumstances.  Bishop Hristo Proykov, apostolic exarch of Sofia and president of the Bulgarian Bishops Conference, recounted that orthodox and Catholics worked well together in Bulgaria when they lobbied to stop a pro-abortion law in the Parliament.  Emmanuil Patashev, general secretary of Caritas Bulgaria, underscored that the work done by Caritas is very much appreciated by orthodox, as they do not have similar structures.  However, this approach is not easily applied when the dialogue comes to be among the top religious ranks. Allegation of heresies, theological debates, and a closed mind are, in the end, expressions of Churches that are very much linked to national reality and are in some case even nationalist.  In this case, Pope Francis decided to concede something and listen.  He did in a few cases. For example: when the Serbian Orthodox Church protested for the possible canonization of Blessed Aloizije Stepinac, Pope Francis established a Catholic-Orthodox joint commission.  Pope Francis also sought a new approach.  He described the joint declaration he signed along the Moscow Patriarch Kirill in 2015 as “a pastoral document,” and at the same time, he did not miss to show closeness to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic world.  In the end, Pope Francis does not take stances. He mostly tries to keep close to all the parties, assuming the good reasons of everyone. For this reason, his ecumenical approach can be described as an approach of "equivicinity."

Pope Francis, consistory and Curia reform set for June?

Apr 23, 2019 / 00:00 am

By the end of June, Pope Francis could not only finalize the Curia reform. We are still in the field of speculation, but there are clues that Pope Francis will also convoke a consistory to create new Cardinals on June 28-29. This way, Pope Francis will give his final imprint to the composition of the college of cardinals and, as a consequence, to the future conclave that will elect his successor.  The first clue is that the next meeting of the Council of Cardinals will take place on June 25-27. The Council of Cardinals customarily gathered every two months, on the first or second week of the month. It is the first time they gather at the end of the month.  Immediately after the Council was scheduled, a source involved in the works of Curia reform told CNA that “the meeting of the Council was scheduled at the end of June given a possible consistory.” According to the same source, it is likely that the consistory for the creation of new Cardinals will be preceded by an extraordinary consistory to discuss the Curia reform. Pope Francis does not convoke extraordinary consistories since the 2015 Consistory.  The Feb. 22, 2014 consistory was preceded by an extraordinary consistory on the issues of the family, opened with a speech from Cardinal Walter Kasper that set the tone of the discussion ahead of the two synods on the family. The Feb. 14-15, 2015 consistory for the creation of new Cardinals was preceded by an extraordinary consistory to discuss Curia reform.  After that, Pope Francis did not convoke any other extraordinary consistory to discuss issues of mutual interest. Extraordinary consistories also gave the Cardinals to know each other better.  Pope Francis has created 73 cardinals since the beginning of the pontificate, and 57 of them are eligible to vote in a conclave – only Cardinals below 80 are eligible to vote in a conference.  Cardinal Stanislaw Dzwisz, archbishop emeritus of Krakow, will turn 80 on Apr. 27 and since then he will not be eligible to vote in a Conclave.  Since Apr. 27, the Cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave will be 120, the maximum limit of cardinals voting in a conference set by St. Paul VI.  During 2019, other Cardinals will turn 80. They are John Tong Hon; Sean Baptist Brady; Laurent Mosengwo Pasinya; Zenon Grocholewski; Edoardo Menichelli; Telesphore Placidus Toppo.  By the end of the year, there will be just 114 cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave. For this reason, it seemed more likely that the Pope was going to convoke a consistory in November, rather than in June. It seems now that Pope Francis will anticipate time.  As per June 29, there will be 57 voting cardinals created by Pope Francis, 44 created by Benedict XVI and 19 created by St. John Paul II. Pope Francis has then created a little more than 47 % of voting cardinals.  This quota will increase, and Pope Francis will give its final imprint to the college of Cardinals.  Will Pope Francis follow the traditional criteria in delivering the red birettas? Nobody knows.  In general, there are just a few dioceses that are traditionally a cardinalatial seat with a Cardinal Archbishop (there are exceptions, like Barcelona). On the other hand, some dioceses and countries were granted red birretta because of their particular situation. The main question is whether Pope Francis will give the red hat to Archbishop Wilton Gregory, just appointed at the helm of the Archdiocese of Washington, and to Archbishop José Gomez, who leads the Archdiocese of Los Angeles since 2011.  If custom would be followed, Archbishop Gomez should get it, as his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony, is 83 and so he is not eligible to vote in a conclave anymore. On the other hand, Archbishop Gregory should wait for 2020, when his predecessor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, will turn 80. It is generally preferred not to have the same archdiocese represented by two cardinals in a conclave.  But Pope Francis' consistories have never been customary.  Pope Francis celebrated an average of one consistory per year. After five consistories, there are 87 countries represented in the conclave, following the rationale that all the possible geographic areas need to be represented.  It is speculated that Pope Francis might also formally expand the maximum limit of voting Cardinals in a conclave.  Paul VI set the limit to 120 voting Cardinals, but the limit was not mandatory. John Paul II exceeded this limit, and also Pope Francis did. Now, Pope Francis could institutionalize the decision to expand the maximum limit to 130 or 140 voting cardinals.  The consistory and the new composition of the college of cardinals must be considered along with Curia reform.   According to the Spanish magazine Vida Nueva, Pope Francis might sign on June 29 the new apostolic constitution that regulates functions and tasks of Curia offices.  The new constitution is title Praedicate Evangelium, “Preach the Gospel.” Other sources confirmed to CNA that the Pope is willing to sign the new constitution on the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul.  For this reason, dicasteries and bishops conferences who received the draft were asked to give a feedback within May. Feedbacks will be then discussed and harmonized in the new constitution by Bishop Marco Mellino, adjunct secretary to the Council of Cardinals.  According to Vida Nueva, the new constitution is going to create a super- Vatican dicastery on Evangelization.  The dicastery would come out of the merging of the Congregation for the Evangelization of People and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of New Evangelization.  There will also be a dicastery of Papal charity, that will absorb the office of the Papal Almoner.  The establishment of a dicastery for Papal charity could be glimpsed by Pope Francis’ choice to create a Cardinal Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, Papal almoner, in the June 2018 consistory.  Speaking with Reuters on June 2018, Pope Francis said: “It think there are two long arms of the pope - that of being custodian of the faith, and there the work is done by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the prefect has to be a cardinal.” The Pope also told Reuters that the heads of the Office of Papal charities will always be cardinals. It is still not clear whether this new dicastery will absorb the functions of the former Pontifical Council Cor Unum, that merged into the Dicastery for the Service of the Integral Human Development.  The dicastery is now taking care of delivering Papal aids and coordinating Catholic relief service all over the world. With Cor Unum, the dicastery also inherited the oversight on Caritas Internationalis, the umbrella organization to 164 Catholic relief agencies all over the world.  Praedicate Evangelii is also supposed to abolish the distinction between Congregations and Pontifical Councils among the Curia offices.  The Congregations are dicasteries that collaborate with the Pope in governing the Church, while the Pontifical Councils have mostly the task of promoting some specific subjects.  Both of them are dicasteries of the Roman Curia. First in the rank of dicasteries is the Secretariat of State, followed by Congregations, Pontifical Tribunals, and Pontifical Councils. At the beginning of the reform, it seemed that other offices with specific tasks were going to be elevated to the rank of the Secretariat of State, as the establishment of the Secretariats for the Economy and Communication suggested.  If Vida Nueva is right, it was then decided that all the Vatican dicasteries will be named as “dicastery,” thus dropping the distinction between Congregations and Pontifical Councils.  This decision was glimpsed when the Secretariat for Communication changed its name into “dicastery for communication.” It is likely that also the Secretariat for the Economy will become a “dicastery for the Economy.”  The Pope also established the dicasteries for Laity, Family and Life and for the Service of the Integral Human Development. They are all chaired by a prefect, which might mean that all of the head of dicasteries will be prefects.  The Secretariat of State will thus keep a central role in the Curia offices, while initially it was even thought that the Secretariat could be divided into two different offices, with a governing body of four secretariats.  In the end, many things have changed since the early discussions on the reform. In the meantime, Pope Francis has been working to change the profile of bishops and the composition of the College of Cardinals.  On June 29, these changes might get a final shape, and Pope Francis’ plan should be finally disclosed in its entirety. 

Benedict XVI and the martyrdom of being misunderstood

Apr 16, 2019 / 00:00 am

The Church is made of martyrs, visible testimonies of the gospel.  There is not only the martyrdom of blood. Cardinal Agostino Casaroli spoke about a “martyrdom of patience” referring to his diplomatic work: he was Vatican secretary of State from 1979 to 1990 and before the Vatican “minister for Foreign affairs” who set up the relations with States on the other side of the Iron Curtain – the so-called Ostpolitik.   There is also the hidden martyrdom of those who are not killed but are merely marginalized by society because of faith.  Today, Benedict XVI turns 92. His martyrdom is even different: he endures a martyrdom because he is misunderstood.  Benedict XVI’s particular martyrdom became even more evident after the publication of his essay “The Church and the scandal of sexual abuse.” Catholic News Agency published the full text in English translation.  Benedict XVI wrote the essay as a reflection on the eve of the summit on the protection of minors that took place in the Vatican from Feb. 21 through Feb. 24.  The essay was published with Pope Francis' ok and after informing the Vatican Secretariat of State. It sparked an extended discussion.  It is difficult to summarize what Benedict XVI said, as every passage is essential.  Benedict XVI's thought is clumsily this: since the 1960s, cultural discussion eliminated the notion of good and evil, especially on the issues of sexuality; this new cultural wave made its way also within the Church’s institution, and found fertile ground in the post- Second Vatican council culture that wanted to break up with the past; moral theology was not able to understand and tackle this new cultural wave and instead accepted that; St. John Paul II worked to counter this new wave reaffirming the notions of good and evil; nowadays, the big challenge is still that of returning to faith, and faith cannot be separated by reason.  The essay was widely criticized, to the point that it seemed to say different things from what Benedict XVI wrote.  Benedict XVI did not say that there were not abuse on minors before the 1960s. He instead noted that there is a growing trend in abuse starting from the 1960s, thanks to the new cultural background.  Benedict XVI did not depict a world averse to the Church. He instead targeted moral theology, unable to understand and read the new signs of times.   Benedict XVI never opposed to Pope Francis. He just gave his point of view on the abuse issue, and even thanked Pope Francis at the end of the essay.  Above all, Benedict XVI did not want to provide some casuistry, to use the term Pope Francis likes. Benedict XV instead investigated the cultural roots of the abuse crisis, without shedding light on particular cases.  Why, then, all of these arguments were part of the discussion?  The truth is that just a few have read the Pope emeritus’ essay with no prejudice. Benedict XVi’s essay hurts because of its lucidity.  The narrative of 1968 is almost untouchable, and Benedict XVI tears it down. However, in doing that he is in good company. At least, he has Pope Francis’ company.  Delivering the traditional new year’s speech to ambassadors accredited to the Holy See in 2018, Pope Francis noted: “In the wake of the social upheaval of the 1960s, the interpretation of some rights has progressively changed, with the inclusion of a number of “new rights” that not infrequently conflict with one another”. Pope Francis’ speech was intended for diplomats, and so it focused on new human rights. However, the new human rights sprung from a cultural. BenedictXVI indicated the cultural background.  There is another untold story: cultural background of the 1960s was opened to pedophilia. Giulio Meotti penned an article on this on the Italian newspaper “Il Foglio.” The piece, dated Sep. 13, 2013, was headlined “1968 of the pedophiles.” Italian Vatican watcher Aldo Maria Valli relaunched it.  Meotti named names and last names and made mentions.  One example: on Jan. 26, 1977, the French newspaper Le Monde launched a petition to decrease the  major age for  to 12, in order o achieve the “children sexual liberation.”  Prominent intellectuals signed the petition. Among them: the semiotician Roland Barthes, the psychoanalysts Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, the founder of Medicins San Frontier Bernard Kouchner, the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.  Giulio Meotti took as basis Germany, inspired by an investigation of the German weekly Der Spiegel. In Germany, magazines like Rosa Flieder or Pflasterstrand justified pedophilia and even asked the depenalization and the legalization of sex with children. The theories were even put in practice by some institutes for education.  Joseph Ratzinger knew and read these discussions; he understood their consequences and was concerned because even some Churchmen were fascinated by these theories.  Could this cultural back have an impact on the perpetuation of abuse?  Christopher Altieri on Catholic Herald correctly stressed that already in 1940 the phenomenon of sex abuse by clergy was the subject of discussion between Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald and bishops and religious superiors in the States.  Abuse, violation of the vote of chastity immoral conduct of priests, have been issued since the beginning of the Church. St. Peter Damian wrote the Liber Gomhorrianus in 1050. In the book, the saint monk targeted homosexuality in the Church and in particular the violation of priestly celibacy. So, why shedding light just on the culture generated during the 1960s?  Austen Ivereigh, Pope Francis’ biographer and certainly not a Ratzingerian, highlighted the response to this question in a tweet.  Ivereigh wrote: “The John Jay College of Criminal Justice reports of 2004 and 2011, commissioned by the U.S. bishops, locate the greatest frequency of abuse in the 1970s, coming down gradually in the 1980s. Virtually every other major study since it shows the same." However, Benedict XVI does not say that the crisis of the Church’s is the 1960s fault. He sheds rather light on a crisis of moral theology in understanding what was really at stake and in reaffirming good and evil.  The Deutsche Arbeitsgemeinschaft Moraltheologie (the association of professors of moral theology in Germany) penned a harsh response that is revealing of the bitterness against Benedict XVI’s ideas.  The moral theologians accuse the Pope emeritus of deploying “an extreme form of theology unconnected with the world” and to exploit the topic of abuse to “reiterate an already well-known critic to a moral theology  with which he does not share the view on sexual ethics.”  They also claim that “those who question from the moral theological perspective that a homosexual act within a stable relationship is always a grave sin, do not legitimate for this reason the sexual violence.” Also, they also stress that “those who, from the moral theological perspective, criticize the traditional rigorism against any form of contraception, do not in the end back a lack in norms.”  The German theologians, however, did not get (or did not want to get) the point. Benedict XVI never said that sexual violence might be legitimated by theologians who do not say that a homosexual act, or a sexual act with contraception, is not a grave sin. Benedict XVI instead noted that moral theology was not able to meet the signs of times and somehow experienced some subsection to the logic of society. The focal point, to Benedict XVI, is not rigorism. It is faith. This is clear in many speeches, interventions, and essays he delivered as professor, archbishop, cardinal, Pope.  For example, in a speech delivered Sep. 7, 2006 to Swiss Bishops in ad limina visit, Benedict XVI underscored that “precisely in the past 50 years or so, it has come a long way in its methodology. On the other hand, however, since much has been lost in anthropology and in the search for reference points, all too often catechesis does not even reach the content of the faith. I can understand this since, even at the time when I was a parochial vicar - some 56 years ago -, it was already very difficult to proclaim the faith in pluralistic schools with numerous non-believing parents and children, because it appeared to be a totally foreign and unreal world”. Pope emeritus added that  “the situation is even worse. Yet, it is important in catechesis, which includes the contexts of school, parish, community, etc., that faith be expounded fully, in other words, that children truly learn what ‘creation’ is, what the "history of salvation" brought about by God is, and who Jesus Christ is, what the sacraments are and what is the object of our hope....” In the end, what Benedict XVI said in the essay and has been saying for all of his life is that the crisis of the Church is a crisis of faith, and that the crisis of faith is an outcome of a crisis of reason that rejects to explain faith and to use a religious language (that is, the proper language) to understand faith. This cancer stroke the Church, too.  As said, Benedict XVI has been saying this all of his life. Anytime he did, however, the reactions were of the same tenure of those provoked by his latest essay. Nor German theologians, nor journalists and intellectuals reacted to Benedict XVI’s essay addressing one after one of the points he raised. The attacks were mostly personal. More than analysis, there have been commentaries. Benedict XVI’s essay was even described as "regrettable", while a casuistry of Benedict XVI’s record in addressing clergy sex abuse scandal was produced to discredit his point of view.  The essay is not ultimately about the decision Benedict XVI took when he was at the helm of the Church. Circumstances also dictate what kind of decisions are to be made. Benedict XVI goes beyond. He looks at the cultural background. He tries to understand why the phenomenon is born. In the end, some of Benedict XVI choices can be understood only through the lenses of a more comprehensive analysis. Benedict XVI always tried to protect faith and never tried to destroy people.  For this reason, the “government argument” could not work. So, it was proposed to silence the Pope emeritus or to give the position a more in-depth regulation, as his mere existence could spark confusion or controversy.  However, anytime Benedict XVI speaks out, asks Pope Francis for permission. Pope Francis, in an interview granted to the Italian newspaper “Il Corriere della Sera” on March 5, 2014, said: “The Pope Emeritus is not a statue in a museum. He is an institution. (…) We spoke between us, and we decided together it was better he met people, he went out, he took part in the Church’s life.”  Yes, someone might argue that Pope Francis wanted that this essay was out n order to generate confusion between Benedict XVI’s supporter and to let come out the party against Pope Francis.  This kind of rationale would be equal to another rationale, that deems as “schismatic” the way Benedict XVI’s entourage eventually chose the media to deliver Pope Francis’ essay. They were, it was noted, conservative media, ready to attack the Pope.  Neither one nor the other rationale hits the nail. More reasonably, Benedict XVI’s entourage chose the media that always tried to tell with the reason the Pope emeritus thought. In addition to those media, the Italian newspaper “Il Corriere Della Sera” was included in the loop. "Corriere della Sera" is certainly not conservative in theological issues and certainly not the kind of medium eager to tell stories from the faith’s point of view.  The need to spread the message from the right podium was then at the basis of the choice of those media.   Targeting the media that spread the message seems then to be part of the narrative that targets the model of Church proposed by Pope emeritus. Since it is challenging to counter Benedict XVI with reason, those who have a different view diminish the impact of his words. It was also dropped the suspicion that Benedict XVI did not write the text. All of this is not new, to Benedict XVI. Even during his pontificate, Benedict XVI was personally attacked. Moreover, Benedict XVI let everybody talk. He did not have supporters ready to attack as schismatic any critic to his thought, nor he wanted them.  No one countered his word; almost everybody attacked him. At 92, after a life spent this way, Benedict XVI is enduring the martyrdom of being misunderstood. 

Pope Francis, ecumenism as a diplomatic tool?

Apr 10, 2019 / 00:00 am

Pope Francis’ diplomatic way can be understood from the decision to host a spiritual retreat for South Sudan leaders in the Vatican.  The spiritual retreat takes place Apr. 10 – 11 and Pope Francis will deliver a speech at the end of that. It was the Archbishop of Canterbury who suggested the idea of the meeting, which Pope Francis welcomed.  The Archbishop of Canterbury will take part in the meeting, as well as Rev. John Chalmers, who has been the moderator of the Scottish Presbyterian Church and visited the war-torn country in 2014.  Eight members of the South Sudan Council of Churches are taking part in the meeting. According to Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Holy See Press Office, this meeting will be “an occasion for encounter and reconciliation, in a spirit of respect and trust, to those who in this moment have the mission and the responsibility to work for a future of peace and prosperity for the South Sudanese people”. Given the presence of so many Christian leaders, it seems that Pope Francis is using ecumenical dialogue as a diplomatic tool.  Pope Francis has, in the end, a pragmatic approach, both in diplomacy and in ecumenism.  Pope Francis focuses the ecumenical dialogue on practical issues, rather than on theological matters. “Walking, praying and working together” was, in the end, the motto of Pope Francis’ June 2018 trip to Geneva, to meet with the World Council of Churches.  It means that the Pope seeks what unites, finding that ecumenical dialogue can be developed only working together on common issues.  The common grounds are peace, justice, migration issues, and all the social issues in general.  Prayer is instead something that unites all the Christian confessions, and that can also bridge with other religious faiths.  This ecumenical commitment must be included in the framework of the deep Holy See commitment for peace.  Under Pope Francis, the diplomatic initiatives developed following this path of walking, praying and working together. The first significant Pope Francis’ diplomatic initiative was the day of fasting and prayer for the peace in Syria, and the Middle East summoned on Sep. 8, 2013.  Before the meeting, the then Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, in his capacity of Secretary for the Relations with the States (he is now a Cardinal and prefect of the Apostolic Signatura), met the corps of ambassador accredited to the Holy See and gave an overview of the Holy See position about the situation in the Middle East.  Pope Francis also promoted prayer for peace in the Middle East in the Vatican Gardens on June 8, 2014.  Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who is now archbishop and administrator of the Latina Patriarchate of Jerusalem, was entrusted of preparing the meeting. The late Israeli president Shimon Peres and the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas were together with Pope Francis in the Vatican Garden. Also, Patriarch Bartholomew, I of Constantinople took part in the prayer.  The presence of Patriarch Bartholomew inaugurated a new season. Pope Francis understood that the moments of mutual commitments were also moments to show Christianity united and that a unified Christianity could be a real sign of peace for the world. Pope Francis went to Lesbos on Apr. 16, 2016 and he was accompanied in the journey by Patriarch Bartholomew and with Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens. The meeting had the scope to shed light on the refugees' crisis, but it was also an occasion to strengthen ecumenical ties based on a common interest. Pope Francis trip to Lund, Sweden, on Oct. 31, 2016, was also the occasion for an ecumenical commitment. During that trip, Caritas Internationalis and the World Service of the Lutheran World Federation signed a declaration of intents to promote a partnership between the two organizations.  Last Apr. 4, Caritas Internationalis and World Service reaffirmed their commitment and discussed leveraging joint networks.  There was another day of prayer of peace, celebrated on Nov. 23, 2017. The event was dedicated to praying for peace in South Sudan and the Congo Democratic Republic. Unlike the 2013 event, this day of prayer was not preceded by a meeting with diplomatic corps. The spiritual retreat for South Sudan is also a way to pursue this ecumenical strategy to achieve peace. The Holy See has set aside the diplomatic efforts, though Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Vatican “minister for Foreign Affairs,” was in South Sudan from March 21 to March 25. He met with local authorities, encouraged the peace process, listened to the concerns of the bishops and informally tried to understand if there are conditions for a Pope Francis’ trip in the country. Months before, the Holy See had established a residential office in South Sudan, an office of the nunciature led by Monsignor Mark Kadima, that is residential chargée d’affairs in the country.  The retreat in the Vatican is something new. However, the Catholic Church has already a long tradition to put people together on the same table and to heal the wounds of conflict: the Commissions for Truth and Reconciliation, that have been very much successful in many countries, like South Africa and Colombia.  The retreat is however just a first step. Pope Francis is still longing to visit South Sudan. He will undoubtedly do when things are settled. The dialogue promoted in the Vatican can make the conditions favorable for a trip. 

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